Readers of this blog will know that my basic premise is that , my parents’ murders included, the State permitted or acquiesced in the deaths of its citizens “for the greater good”.
Let me again follow the logic.
You are a handler. Your tout/informer/agent-it matters not on the nomenclature, has risen to an important role within PIRA. He is part of the targeting, planning and execution process. He is telling you who are in the ASUs, who the Quartermaster is, where the explosives are stored and who is making the bombs. If you act on this information, you could disrupt activity by seizing the Semtex. You will have no evidence to put before a court , because the Supergrass system has been discredited and in any event your informer is unwilling to give evidence.
Alternatively, you could act to thwart the operations that your informer tells you about. After a few failures, PIRA are going to put two and two together and that’s the end of your informer.
So , in the grand scheme, some attacks have to get through.
A value judgement has to be made. Who do we sacrifice “for the greater good”?
Not Bobby Carswell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Gerry Adams, Brian Gillen or …
As the former head of MI5 said, life can be messy.
Some unimportant people have to be sacrificed to protect the informer. The higher up in the chain of command is the informer, the greater the ‘product’ and the greater the need to protect him.
That’s my theory, Dear Reader. So let’s test some aspects of it.
What rules applied to RUC Special Branch prior to 2000?
Let’s get it from the horse’s mouth. After my last blog was republished on a site called Expose the Republican Narrative a contributor , calling himself “Angus McTavish” offered a riposte.
I have found out who this person is, but I’m going to call him, for the purposes of debate “Jonty”.
Jonty has taken the time to offer rebuttal to most of my points, though he fails to recognise some tongue in cheek humour. But never mind.
He does , however , provide a window into the world of Special Branch, which he says he inhabited for a quarter of a century.
This is what he says about the rules.
4.5 – at the risk of repeating myself, De Silva seems to recognise a fact that has escaped the attention of both Nuala O’Loan and Michael Maguire, when they fail to recognise sufficiently, that intelligence agents, in order to operate as agents, must show support for the aims and objectives of their terrorist grouping. Furthermore, they must, if they are to be trusted within that group, carry out at least some actions which could be described as terrorist activity. Prior to RIPA (2000), this tactical imperative was conducted under the broad scope of agent handling tradecraft and regulated by the oversight of senior officers within RUCSB. It is recognised under RIPA (2000) as legal, justified and necessary deployment of CHIS/agents/touts, call them what you will. “
He goes on:
- Informers/handlers were allowed to commit crimes, including murder – “In the pursuance of a goal of public safety, agents were indeed permitted by handlers to support terrorist groups and even on occasions to engage in criminal activity on their behalf. This behaviour was neither a crime by the agent or the handler and was finally given legal protection in 2000 under RIPA. Murder was not permitted and despite the best investigative efforts of journalists galore, Human Rights organisations (both legitimate and utterly biased), the PONI and several historical inquiries and reviews, not one handler has indeed ever been prosecuted, which in itself provides strong evidence that the claims made both here and on a multitude of previous occasions, are baseless. Any evidence to the contrary, has yet to be uncovered and the mantra is wearing distinctly thin now.”
So let’s deal with Jonty’s argument. The agent must carry out “terrorist activity” and “even on occasions to engage in criminal activity on their behalf” in order to survive. “Murder was not permitted”, says Jonty. I wonder where that is in his rule book?
Prior to RIPA the United Kingdom’s Home Office guidelines on the use of informants was the only policy the Special Branch had to follow. The guidelines stated the police should never use an informant to encourage another to commit a crime; police officers should not counsel, incite, or procure the commission of a crime and protecting informants does not grant the informant immunity from arrest or prosecution for the crime they fully participate in.
Here is the full text. The typos and strange layout are original.
“Our rcfncncc: POL/ 69 1050/1/1
Horsefcrry House, Dean Ryie Street, London S.W.i
Telephone: 01-834 6655, ext.
12th May. L969
Dear Chief Constable,
HOME OFFICE CIRCULAR NO, 97/1969
Informants who take part in crime
The Home Secretary’s attention has been drawn to judicial comment in the appeal of Cork, Colman and Macro and to criticism of police action in several other cases involving police use of informants who took part in crime . He sought information about police practice from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and through H.M. Inspectors of Constabulary. The Central Conference on 6th March gave an opportunity for a general discussion of practices and principles.
2* The Conference fully recognised that informants, properly employed, were
essential to criminal investigation and that, within limits, they ought to be protected. The risks attached to their employment were obvious, however, and safeguards were needed before use was made of an informant taking part in crime.
The Conference appreciated that circumstances varied so widely that it was difficult- to establish rules of general application; but the discussion
identified the principles listed in the next paragraph.
- The Conference in general agreed on the following points.
(a) No member of a police force, and no police informant, should counsel,
incite or procure the commission of a crime.
(b) Where an informant gives the police information about the intention of
others to commit a crime in which they intend that he shall play a part,
his participation should be allowed to continue only. where :-
(i) he does not actively engage in planning and committing the crime;
(ii) he is intended to play only a minor role; and
(iii) his participation is essential to enable the police to frustrate
the principal criminals and to arrest them (albeit for lesser offences
such as attempt or conspiracy to commit the crime, or carrying of
weapons) before injury is done to any person or serious damage to
The informant should always be instructed that he must on no account act
as agent provocateur , whether by suggesting to others that they should commit offences or encouraging them to do so, and that if he is found to have done so he will himself be liable to prosecution.
The Chi- f Constable
(c) The police must never commit themselves to a course which, whether to
protect an informant or otherwise, will constrain them to mislead a court
in any subsequent proceedings* This must always be regarded as a prime
consideration when deciding whether, and in what manner, an informant may be used and how far, if at all, he is to be allowed to take part in an offence.
If his use in the way envisaged will, or is likely to, result in its being
impossible to protect him without subsequently misleading the court, that must be regarded as a decisive reason for his not being so used or not being
(d) The need to protect an informant does not justify granting him immunity
from arrest or prosecution for the crime if he fully participates in it with the requisite intent (still less in respect of any other crime he has committed or may in future commit),
(e) The handling of informants calls for the judgment of an experienced
officer, there must be complete confidence and frankness between
supervising officers and subordinates, and every chief officer of police
should ensure effective supervision of his detectives; a decision to use a participating
informant should be taken at senior level.
(f) Payment to informants from public funds should be supervised by a
(g) Where an informant has been used who has taken part in the commission
of a crime for which others have been arrested, the prosecuting solicitor,
counsel, and (where he is concerned) the Director of Public Prosecutions
should be informed of the fact and of the part that the informant took in the commission of the offence, although, subject to (c) above, not
necessarily of his identity.
(h) Careful instruction should be given to detectives in training.
- The Home Secretary fully endorses these broad principles. He feels sure that
they are already widely applied in the police service; but in view of recent public
interest he thinks it right to bring them to the notice of all chief officers of police. He asks that you will find means of commending them to everyone who may be concerned in your force. He has instructed H.M. Inspectors of Constabulary to pay particular attention, in the course of their inspections, to the arrangements made in police forces for supervision and training in these matters.
Here is what Chief Constable George Hamilton said in a speech in may of this year:
“The problem was much bigger and more complex than the “few bad apples” analogy that has been articulated previously. In the absence of any regulatory framework for managing “agents” police officers were left to set their own standards, they were unaccountable to the law because there was no law. They were unaccountable to their fellow citizens. Policing was being done in a vacuum that allowed unregulated practice. Honest individuals were placed in impossible situations, having to choose between bad and worse. Many people lived; but some people also died as a result of that practice.
The environment in which they worked was chaotic – terrorist attacks were happening on a daily basis, and many lives were being lost. Investigations struggled to keep pace with the rate of murder and serious injury. The pressure was extreme. In these extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances, the intent with which the vast majority of decisions were made was for the protection of the community. But they were, on many occasions, decisions and judgements that should not have been taken; and, I believe, would not have been taken if there had been a proper regulatory framework in place.
The RUC recognised the almost impossible situation they were in and the Da Silva Review makes reference to the fact that the RUC had asked Government for a framework, guidance or legislation on many occasions. Nothing was forthcoming.”
First, he is wrong and completely misleading to suggest there were no rules, secondly he appears to admit that agents were allowed to kill or be involved in killing.
Additionally, Northern Ireland had an interesting piece of legislation. The Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, Section 5.
Penalties for concealing offences etc.
(b)that he has information which is likely to secure, or to be of material assistance in securing, the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any person for that offence;
to give that information, within a reasonable time, to a constable and if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment according to the gravity of the offence about which he does not give that information, as follows:—
(i)if that offence is one for which the court is required by law to sentence an offender to death or to imprisonment for life or to detention during the pleasure of the Governor of Northern Ireland, he shall be liable to imprisonment for not more than ten years;
(ii)if it is one for which a person (of full age and capacity and not previously convicted) may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of fourteen years, he shall be liable to imprisonment for not more than seven years;
(iii)if it is not one included above but is one for which a person (of full age and capacity and not previously convicted) may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of ten years, he shall be liable to imprisonment for not more than five years;
(iv)in any other case, he shall be liable to imprisonment for not more than three years.
So Jonty is wrong in so many ways.
- There were rules
- The rules did not permit the carrying out of continuous crimes by agents
- Handlers broke the law if they turned a blind eye
- RIPA did not provide legal protection for criminality by agents
The awful truth is that Special Branch were told that the “ordinary” rules regarding informers or agents did not apply to them.
I’m sure Dear Reader , you will look forward to a cogent reply from Jonty, Dr William or Dr Tim or any other member of the RUC who claims to have been at the cutting edge of Special Branch.
Next up for the blog will be a demolition of George’s recent speech.